From education to employment

Rethinking Education: the Future at the FE Collective

A general election looms on the horizon. In normal times, we would collectively be calling for additional investment into the education and skills sector, which we all know would make a material difference to outcomes for individuals, and the economy.

However, despite a wide body of evidence demonstrating that investment in skills will reap long term rewards through raised productivity, we must acknowledge that politics has changed immeasurably over the last couple of decades.

Since the 2008 financial crash, the prevailing narrative has been that it is irresponsible for Government to borrow to invest. After years of austerity, and attempting to reduce the deficit, both major parties appear to be committed to a set of fiscal rules that mean that additional money is hard to come by.

Of course, additional funds can be raised through taxation, but again both parties are currently reluctant to commit to any tax increases ahead of an election.

Engaging with the government

So, we find ourselves in a position where we must be realistic. If we are to seriously engage with Government, it is not a case of asking for further investment, but rather looking carefully at where existing resources are deployed, and thinking about whether we can do things differently within existing budgets.

The announcement of the Advanced British Standard at the Conservative Party Conference indicates that the government are planning to invest an initial £600m to support teacher recruitment and retention and help more students pass maths and English GCSE. These are all admirable aims, but we must view them in context of reforms since 2016, taking into consideration the fact that £918.5m has already been invested in the T Level programme between 2017-18 and 2022-23.

Planning for the long-term

This speaks to the issue of planning for the long term. Organisations such as the Federation for Education Development have called for a ten-year plan for education. The need has never been greater. In a time where funding is hard to come by, having and sticking to a coherent, long-term plan should be a core principle to ensure that public money is spent effectively.

Many of the problems in the education and skills system are long-term issues and well understood – too many learners are let down by the system and fail to achieve the standard in English and maths, with consequences for their careers and long-term outcomes. We are unable to attract and recruit enough teachers, particularly in FE. We know that many adults will need to retrain in a rapidly changing labour market, but the numbers of adults engaged in skills programmes remains low.

What can we do?

Too often, we have seen Governments introduce ‘top-down’ reforms, setting out their vision before they have engaged with the sector and without enough focus placed on the feedback that come from consultation.

Imagine what could be achieved if those of us who work in the sector come together to co-develop solutions? If we could pool our expertise and look at issues form a range of perspectives, I truly believe that we could produce workable, value for money solutions that would attract support across the sector and across government.

The FE Collective provides us an opportunity to think differently, collaborate and explore where investment would make the greatest impact. As we approach a general election the timing could not be better, and I am so excited to see how this movement develops.

By Michael Lemin, Head of Policy at NCFE

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